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Utah snowstorm snarls commute with hundreds of crashes, sparks power outages and piles up powder at ski resorts

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Snow blankets the Salt Lake Valley as a winter storm passes through the Wasatch Front Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.

After a day full of snow, Monday drivers braved poor road conditions, causing more than 200 crashes along the Wasatch Front. Tuesday is projected to bring more of the same.

With precipitation forecast to pick up Monday night and temperatures expected to drop, Tuesday’s commuters likely will be greeted with a fresh blanket of snow.

And while the afternoon and evening forecast calls for brief respite, snow is likely to return before the weekend as part of a “cycle” of storms over the next week or so.

Mike Conger, meteorologist for the National Weather Service (NWS) in Salt Lake City, said Monday that the storm was stalled west of the Great Salt Lake but would continue east in the early evening and through the night. It was expected to pass by Tuesday afternoon.

Conger said most valleys throughout Salt Lake, Davis, and Utah counties should see 1 to 3 inches of new snow by Tuesday afternoon, with some areas receiving more.

Conger said things will wind down Tuesday evening and return Wednesday with some of the lowest temperatures the state has seen this winter.

The Wasatch Front will have highs in the single digits or low teens, while the mountains will have highs ranging from zero degrees to double-digit negatives, he said. The rest of the state should see temperatures ranging from about zero to 10 degrees.

The snow began to fall Sunday night and slowed commuters Monday morning. Drivers traveled at less than half their normal speed during the icy, snowy morning commute that contributed to hundreds of crashes on highways and community streets along the Wasatch Front.

By 5 p.m., the NWS had recorded 8 inches of snow in Salt Lake City. Bountiful had 15, and Sandy had 25 inches. The NWS reported that 11 recording stations saw record-breaking snowfall Monday. The oldest record broken was from 1918, and a 1910 record at the Laketown station was tied. The Alta station’s 16.2 inches shattered a 1983 record of 1 foot.

From midnight Sunday to 3:30 p.m. Monday, the Utah Highway Patrol responded to 458 crashes along the Wasatch Front. Four UHP vehicles were hit, as was a Utah Department of Transportation truck.

The UHP called in at least 15 additional troopers in Salt Lake and Utah counties on Monday morning, Trooper Lawrence Hopper said, and many troopers who’d been working overnight were not released at the end of their regular shifts Monday morning.

None of the crashes caused significant injuries, but state safety officials warned drivers to leave extra space between cars and to plan for travel to take longer than usual. They told people to pack food, water, blankets and warm clothing in case of an emergency.

Utah Department of Transportation spokeswoman Lisa Miller said to limit driving when possible.

NWS radar equipment went down in northern Utah overnight Sunday, but as of 9 p.m. Monday, area ski resorts were reporting between 16 and 19 inches of snow.

Despite delays in travel, a steady line of cars made its way to the resort most of the morning, Alta Ski Area spokeswoman Connie Marshall said, many bringing guests from out of state on a three-day weekend that is traditionally one of the busiest of the ski season.

“It was an exciting deal,” Marshall said of the snow, adding that the “frenzy” of guests was mostly caused by excitement for off-trail skiing in the fresh powder. Lines for lifts began to form an hour before the 9:15 a.m. opening.

The dump of snow tapered off late in the morning and gave way to a “beautiful, gentle snowfall,” Marshall said.

The Utah Avalanche Center warned of danger in the areas of Logan, Salt Lake City, Provo, Ogden, the Uintas, Moab and the Abajo.

Rocky Mountain Power workers were bombarded Monday morning after weather-related outages left 7,000 customers without electricity, spokeswoman Tiffany Erickson said. By 9 p.m., eight outages were affecting 805 customers.

Three flights at Salt Lake City International Airport were canceled, and 375 were delayed as of Monday night, according to FlightAware.com. Nancy Volmer, spokeswoman for the airport, said delays Tuesday morning will largely depend on overnight weather. She suggested that travelers call their airlines Tuesday morning to inquire about possibly delays.
Areas in the southern and the east-central parts of the state were under a wind advisory, and a winter weather advisory was issued for eastern Utah.

Conger, the meteorologist, said the storm cycle will continue, likely returning late in the week, then taking a short break before it picks back up Sunday.

Then, he said, it will break for a few days early next week before likely returning.

While this is the biggest storm for Utah since December, Conger said it’s closer to a standard Utah winter than the dry weather of the past couple of months.

“In the broader picture, during a typical winter, we see this about three times per season,” he said. “You do expect to see something like this in the winter here in Utah.”

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